November 13, 2014

Humility is not what most people think

Aristotle once said that he preferred high-mindedness to humility. To him, humility was not a virtue. On the other hand, British statesman and Prime Minister William Gladstone claimed humility is created in Christianity.

Some glimpses of humility can be seen before Christ came. Perhaps King David had stood outside looking at the night sky and realized his own smallness when he wrote, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet . . .” (Psalm 8:1–6)

Humility begins with considering God and all that He has done and can do. He set the moon and stars in place. He created human beings and cares for us. He even committed His grand creation to our care. Those are humbling thoughts.

Yet even wise philosophers like Aristotle and other educated men like him have thought that humility is a weakness. They and many others have little idea of what it means to be humble. It is not a cringing, hand-wringing, self-pity. It is not a focus on “poor little me” nor is it thinking disparaging things about myself, as if I have no value or worth in my own eyes.

Actually, true humility can know who I am and what I can do, but it isn’t about my opinion of me, but about not thinking about me at all. How can that be done?

The best example is Jesus Christ. Although everlasting God and Creator of the universe, He humbled Himself and came to earth. He didn’t arrive wearing regal robes and riding a white horse, but was born in a manger as a helpless baby. He lived among us, not in a palace but without a home of His own. He possessed no wealth, no academic degrees, no titles or executive positions. He was silent as He was brutally crucified for the sins of the very people He created, murdered because they didn’t want Him, their God, to have any place in their lives. That is humility.

Sometimes I try to imagine what I would have done in His place. It would not be the self-pity version, even though my focus would be on me. Instead of saying, “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do” I would be in a ‘defend myself’ mode, not at all willing to suffer for others. My attitude would be totally opposite humility.

How then could Gladstone say humility was birthed in Christianity? He could say it because he was raised an evangelical Christian and knew that when someone believes in Jesus, they are given a new life, even given the mind of Christ. This changes everything.

Certainly, Christians are not always humble and self-sacrificing, ready to help others (ask me how I know that), but the mind of Christ is there, and every now and then, if we are yielded and willing, it is entirely possible to think like Jesus thinks. When that happens, pride and selfishness must move aside to allow a small glimpse of Christ’s humility to shine through.

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